The Vagina Monologues
The very concept of dramatizing real-life testimonies from women about their vaginas seems to transcend quality. Since its off-Broadway unveiling in 1997, The Vagina Monologues has become a national sensation, despite the fact that it really isn't very good.
With a stripped-down ambience that features talented actresses sitting in front of microphones, Monologues oozes a yearning to be raw and spontaneous. It wants its progressive diatribe to take precedence over trivial things like memorization and movement. The problem is that everything about the show, from the monologues, to the brutal exchanges that occur between the performers in between the monologues, is so heavily scripted (the cast members actually PRETEND to read from their hand-held scripts, even though it's more than clear that they know every word by heart) that any sense of open-mike style spontaneity is lost under a curtain of gloss.
It doesn't help that The Vagina Monologues themselves aren't monologues as much as they are infomercial-esque words of inspiration from actual vaginal converts. Here is a woman who has finally discovered the magic of her clitoris for the first time. Here is another woman who has finally discovered what her vagina can do. Here is a woman who has finally had some good sex because the man paid attention to her... guess what? That's right, he paid attention to her vagina. It wouldn't surprise me if one of the monologues began with: "I finally have an amazing relationship with my vagina, and so can you, in just five easy steps!"
The Vagina Monologues is, at its core, a mantra for female pleasure and, when it sticks to its guns, achieves a lighthearted warmth. Vaginas are given nauseating nicknames ("stinkpot" and "nappy dug-out" among others), are punned upon (shall I "cunt"-inue?), and are whimsically and pseudo-philosophically speculated on ("if your vagina could talk, what would it say?"), but somehow the show avoids affecting outright queasiness. Instead it turns the vagina all cute and fuzzy, like your favorite stuffed animal. This element is at once funny and detrimental. A few of the monologues have more serious things to say about vaginas, but it's hard to take a woman's rape story seriously when she is alluding to her "coochie-snorcher" the whole time.
Perhaps it is a lack of deeper meaning that makes the Monologues ultimately a disappointment. Or maybe it's that despite the enormous talent of its actors, Tracy Leigh and Amy Love, it feels like a free reading at Powell's instead of a theatrical experience that you just paid $40 to see. This didn't seem to bother the hundreds of liberated women in the audience at the Newmark Theater who stood on their feet at the show's conclusion and thunderously applauded, but that in itself is a baffling aspect of Monologues: that it is popular among liberated women at all. Perhaps it is the first piece of theater to talk about vaginas for as long as it does, but it certainly is not the first attempt at setting women's pleasure potential free--that happened many years ago during a magical decade called The Sixties. Monologues is very proud of its explicit vaginal talk, but ironically, the women who it hopes to expose to its scandalous behavior have heard it all before.
Let's not forget, though, that this show is entertaining, but it's entertaining like a really funny magazine column that your friend reads aloud to you is entertaining. You can buy a copy of The Vagina Monologues at Powell's for twelve bucks. That's a third of the cost of this show, and with the book in hand you can spend a lifetime wallowing in the muck of pointless vaginal excess instead of just 90 minutes. JUSTIN SANDERS